The Demolition of the J.L. Hudson building in Detroit

Hudson Implosion 2

Hudson Implosion 2, photo by ExcuseMySarcasm.

I had a post mapped out in my head that started out “When I was a little boy, my grandma used to take me down to Hudsons in Detroit on Saturday…”

I realized I couldn’t find the link to the site I found last year with all the photos of Hudson’s in its glory, so that post will have to wait for another day. Besides, this isn’t that kind of a photo…

With the press of a button at 5:47 PM on October 24, 1998, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer dropped the J.L. Hudson Department Store from his city’s skyline and into the history books and record books.

The above from a detailed page on the demolition of J.L. Hudson Department Store CDI (the company that performed the demolition). It understandably touts their work, explaining that at 439 feet tall and 2.2 million square feet, Hudson was both the tallest and the largest single building ever imploded.

Hudson’s Implosion at the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit tells the tale the best (with photos). I know it’s cheating to skip to the end and post that, but after watching a video of the implosion and hearing the cheers, I was very moved by it, especially given what has happened in Detroit and Michigan in the decade since and appears to be continuing:

The cheering had stopped as the immense reality of the event sobered all who viewed it. An emptiness followed and the guilt of our cheers weighed upon us.

The choking clouds dissipated and a ghastly scene was revealed. An inch of dust covered everything for blocks around and there, in the midst of it all, lay the smoldering and shattered heart of 20th Century downtown Detroit.

For more photos (and to see the above larger) check out ExcuseMySarcasm’s Hudson Explosion slideshow and also the Hudson’s Detroit slideshow on Flickr which also contains some pics of the Hudson car and this photo by Paul Hitz of the space where Hudson’s used to be where he suggests that a park or something would be nice where the Hudsons building used to be.

Here’s a video with a good view of the charges going off (this person has a number more too!), another video from across the river in Windsor and a third titled “Detroit Hope” showing Hudson’s rising like a phoenix.

24 thoughts on “The Demolition of the J.L. Hudson building in Detroit

    1. Hudson’s was in terrible shape due to years of neglect, but was structurally sound and in absolutely no danger of collapse. It was one of the most senseless demolitions of a historic structure since Penn Station, Richfield Tower, and Singer Building were obliterated. The current site, a dreary empty space with 955-spots of underground parking, will someday be redeveloped with a new structure. However, the area will never reattain its former class-that is gone forever.


  1. I was one of those whose “Grandma took me to Hudson’s in Detroit at Christmas”.

    It was a part of our family Christmas tradition when growing up. To a young boy, the place was magical.

    Hudson’s represented one of the best cities in the United States at the time. We’re left to wonder now: what the heck happened?


  2. I sense that almost as soon as the dust settled from the demolition, they realized the gravity of what they had just done. Such a shame to lose great buildings and places with so many memories. The only way they could put a positive end on it is to now get a world class architect like Norman Foster or someone to deign an amazing new addition to Detroit’s skyline to go on the Hudson’s site.


  3. I get that sense too Lee. It’s like someone with a messy house starting to clean it up by throwing away old photo albums that are lying on the floor rather than trying to pick things up and put them away.


  4. While I appreciate the many who have expressed the sentiment of, more or less, “what a shame,” we cannot fight reality. Who would ever have restored this building? Answer: no one. How much would such a restoration have cost? Answer: way too much.

    Better to come down then to sit, decaying and crumbling, reminding of Detroit’s glorious past and depressing current state.

    I’m glad it was torn down.


  5. I feel that was not the right choice
    detroit is worth restoring . Why tear these structures down an not put another building there thats plain stupid . Detroit could have one of the most beautiful skylines in the world if people here stop being scared of change detroit need skyscrapers period this is a city not the country we make chicago look bad…… Start by completing the 81 story book tower. That one building would have an affect on detroit skyline it would draw people to c it feel in these vacant downtown lots an i gaurantee people would come to the city just to c whats going on not to mention the investers that would be interested ! Think about it. Please do somthing for my city before pass ive been in detroit all my life im 44 yrs old an the city still looks the same its very sad!


  6. What a sad moment for Detroit,the biggest downtown dept store now history!My Mom took me there when I was a child,santa’s toyland,Sanders,and riding the elevators up and down!The City is not the same anymore as these buildings implode and what a fine job CDI did to take down this GIANT!!Thank’s for the MEMORIES!!!!


  7. I was the number one man who took the asbestos out of the JL Hudson building . It was the largest abatement project in Midwest history. I used over 270 workers all at once. I’m from Chicago my name is Jack Featherstone. Due to Law R23. Most of my crew were complete strangers. The substance we were taking out of the Hudson is deadly if dry,airborne, and breathed in. The building was about to be blown into a massive cloud airborne across the city. It was my job to make sure that cloud was not deadly,no pressure. The local labor, under my direction,did a on time,clean and historic job. It was the gem of my 25 year run. I have to tell you the building was bad. A 4th floor marble lined bathroom floor was a campfire spot for indoor fires. No roof for years let rain destroy every floor. Sharon Stone tided herself to my gate one morning to save her store. Lee Iacocca was walked through to save it. Both loved it as kids. It was one of the first buildings ever air conditioned by the inventor carrier. The chiller was removed from the building during the second world war and it’s served on an aircraft carrier cooling the pilots. After we won it was brought back and used once again in the Hudson building. The Thanksgiving day parade was invented by Hudson with its grand balloons. Detroit always plays on Thanksgiving. The Smithsonian came and took the worlds largest American flag that used to hang during the parade on the side of the building along with the chiller. The term bargain basement was invented in the building and sitting on Santa’s lap was also invented there . It was a grand old gal but she was in very bad need of repair. I worked closely with CDI making sure that the cloud of dust that was left by the Hudson was safe but sad. Thanks Detroit for letting me help “the big ole gal” say goodbye safely .


      1. Hello Jack;Great article and great work on making the air better before implosion?
        From a retired union carpenter,Steven Anderson


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